The Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Boston Bruins, scoring twice in the final 1:16 to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win in decisive Game Six for the Chicago Blackhawks, giving Chicago their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
With their backs against the wall, Boston dominated play early, outshooting Chicago 12-6 (32-8 in shot attempts) in the first period, but only held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes, on a goal by Chris Kelly.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews evened the score in the second period and the Blackhawks started to turn the momentum.
Despite Chicago holding a shooting edge in the third period, Bruins LW Milan Lucic broke the tie with 7:49 left in the third period and, at that point, it was looking like the series could be heading back to Chicago for Game Seven.
With the game on the line, Toews and Patrick Kane created a scoring opportunity, with Toews feeding Bryan Bickell across the crease and Bickell fired it home to tie the game. Bickell, who had nine goals in 48 regular season games, scored his ninth goal of the playoffs in his 23rd game.
Scoring with just more than a minute remaining sure made it look like overtime was coming, but the Blackhawks didn't get the memo. They quickly entered the Bruins' zone and Dave Bolland banged in a rebound to suddenly flip the script.
Bolland, who has been a stellar playoff performer in previous seasons, struggled at times in this playoff season as he was coming back from injury, scoring one point in his first dozen playoff games, then added five points in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.
As the playoffs wounds down, it became a war of attrition between Boston and Chicago as injuries started to affect player availability and performance. Bruins RW Nathan Horton was playing with chronic shoulder injury that limited his effectiveness and had two assists and seven shots on goal in six games against Chicago.
In Game Six, Bruins RW Jaromir Jagr was limited to just 6:27 of ice time, while C Patrice Bergeron, who left Game Five early, played 17:45 with a broken rib, torn cartilage and a separated shoulder. In Bergeron's absence, David Krejci, the playoffs' leading scorer with 26 points in 22 games, played 23:37 to lead all Boston forwards.
Chicago had their own injuries to deal with. Toews was held out of action in the third period of Game Five, due to a suspected concussion, but he was vital to the Blackhawks' effort in Game Six, playing 20:12 and scoring a goal and an assist to lead all Chicago forwards.
Marian Hossa, who was playing in his fourth final in six years, missed Game Three of the Final before returning to play in a diminished state for the rest of the series despite a disc in his back pushing against a nerve, leaving his foot numb when he played.
Then there was Bickell, who suffered a Grade Two knee sprain late in the Western Conference Final against Los Angeles, and injury that under normal circumstances might cause him to miss three-to-four weeks of action. Bickell, who had been a playoff beast, didn't record a point in the first three games of the Final, but contributed four points in the last three games.
Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane, who had 19 points and a plus-7 rating, was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as Playoff MVP, but there were no obvious choices on the Blackhawks side.
Bickell had 17 points and was plus-11, Patrick Sharp had a playoff-leading 10 goals and 16 points and D Duncan Keith had 13 points and a plus-10 rating. G Corey Crawford probably had the best claim to the award among Blackhawks, with a .932 save percentage in the postseason.
Even though the Bruins didn't win, G Tuukka Rask and his .940 save percentage would have been an entirely justifiable selection, as would Krejci, who was seven points clear of any other scorer in the postseason. Bruins LW Milan Lucic had 19 points, was plus-12 and led the playoffs with 102 hits. Bickell was second with 85.
Part of the story for the Blackhawks were the contributions they received from players like Michal Handzus, the 36-year-old cast-off from San Jose who scored 11 points and had a plus-7 rating filling a second-line centre role for Chicago, while playing with a broken wrist and torn MCL. Michael Frolik (10 points) and Andrew Shaw (nine points) were also effective forwards on the lower half of the Blackhawks' depth chart.
Boston had contributions from the likes of Dan Paille (nine points) and received 17 goals from their defenceman, led by Johnny Boychuk with six (Boychuk scored one goal in 44 regular season games). At the same time, the Bruins needed more from offensive performers like Jagr, who had zero goals (and 10 assists) on 58 shots in the playoffs and Tyler Seguin, who set up Boston's first goal in Game six, but managed one goal and eight points in 22 playoff games. It's not that Jagr and Seguin didn't play well, both had shots and good possession numbers, but at some point, the shots have to turn into goals if it's going to make a difference in playoff results.
Toews, Hossa, Keith and rookie Brandon Saad were among those leading the Blackhawks in possession metrics for the postseason, and Toews could have been lumped in with Jagr and Seguin, except that Toews found the net in two of the last three games of the postseason, scoring a total of five points. It's such a thin line between winning and losing that a goal or two from underperforming players could have shifted the balance in the series. The Blackhawks got those goals and the Bruins didn't.
In the end, the Blackhawks were the best team in the regular season and earned their favourite status going into the Final with excellent possession stats. In a series which had three overtime games and no game with a margin greater than two goals, Chicago outscored Boston 18-14 over the six games, for a well-deserved and hard-fought victory, if perhaps shocking in its sudden swerve ending.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.